Darwin Fish

by Henry on April 6, 2006

Teresa Nielsen Hayden in comments on Making Light

Won’t change their minds [creationists] . They’ll say it’s a fake.

So maybe that means they won’t have to deal with it; but they’re just begging to have their kids suffer a catastrophic loss of faith when they discover that it’s demonstrably not a fake. You can only go so far in inculcating denial. Beyond that, the person has to want to deny the evidence.

Or that it was put there by God to test our Faith.

God Almighty is infinite truth and light, but the God we deal with here on earth is lying to us? Doesn’t that make them some unpleasant variety of Gnostic?

Also, could they please explain what other apparently solid data is eligible to be dismissed in that fashion? Yes? And how they can tell the difference? One step past that point in any direction, they’ll fall into “some parts of creation are More Real than others” : a muddy, fetid philosophical swamp that breeds errors by the swarm.

“What do we know, and how do we know that we know it?” : There’s a reason it’s a classic.

Or worse, it was put there by the Foul Deceiver to undermine said Faith.

Ooooookay, so Satan is a creative force, and had a hand in the creation of the world? That can’t be anything but Manichaeanism: a recurrent Christian heresy, explicitly rejected as doctrine by all the major denominations.

There’s your real problem with Creationism: it’s incompatible with Christianity.

Update: as Teresa points out in comments, I should make it clear that she’s responding to an earlier comment by Serge.

{ 35 comments }

1

Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 1:03 pm

That may be A problem, but those of us who don’t give a rat’s about Christianity can scarcely be expected to agree that it’s THE problem.

2

Chris Bertram 04.06.06 at 1:10 pm

Hey, before they discovered this fish there was one gap in the fossil record, now there are two! Where are the “transitional forms” between this fish and the nearest ones? Eh? Eh? …

(The anti-Darwinians can keep this up indefinitely of course)

3

Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 1:19 pm

Exactly Chris, that’s always been the standard gallows humor among biologists ruefully contemplating C’ist idiocy about “gaps”- every newly discovered transitional form merely increases the number of “gaps” from n to n + 1.

All joking aside, that is one seriously cool species.

4

pdf23ds 04.06.06 at 1:36 pm

“every newly discovered transitional form merely increases the number of “gaps” from n to n + 1.”

For a dishonest creationist, sure. For an honest one (are there any? dunno) it would change one big gap into two much, much less significant gaps.

5

Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 1:38 pm

Except there are only two types: dishonest ones (the dupers), and honest but really, really dumb ones (the dupees), who are much too dumb to have that or any other kind of thought.

6

Jonas Grumby 04.06.06 at 1:53 pm

Is that Zeno’s Paradox, as it applies to debating creationism?

7

harry b 04.06.06 at 1:59 pm

Obviously a fake, like the dinosaurs (and the moon landing for that matter — look around you and tell me the world isn’t flat with a straight face).

8

joel turnipseed 04.06.06 at 2:08 pm

Actually, it’s all a plot by the National Geographic Society, who funded both this research and the research into the just-announced Gospel of Judas. How odd that they’d both appear in the NYT on the same day. Coincidence? Or collusion among the God-hating liberals at NYT and NG? As O’Reilly says: “You decide!”

9

Daniel 04.06.06 at 2:30 pm

how about “it’s a funny wee fishy thing, created by God”?

My theological consulting rates are decidedly reasonable.

10

vanya 04.06.06 at 2:38 pm

The problem is in the way Creationists define “transitional”, this will not count for them. They want something that would look like a medieval fantasy – a lizard with feathered wings, a cow with a whale tale, or a shrimp with half a functioning eye. Since these people have no understanding of basic biology in the first place how on earth is any real evidence ever going to convince them? You’re talking about people who seriously believe the earth is 6000 years old, there is no reasoning with people that oblivious to logic and fact.

11

Teresa Nielsen Hayden 04.06.06 at 2:54 pm

Hi, Henry. My interlocutor there, the one who posited the Creationists’ responses, is Serge.

Steve Labonne, you are being dull.

12

Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 3:01 pm

Teresa, I realize your comment was intended to be witty, it’s just that I found the amusement to be of a rather tepid sort. If that makes me dull, well, I’ve been called a lot worse. ;)

13

eudoxis 04.06.06 at 3:11 pm

This is obviously an example of devolution. We know land mammals sometimes lost their pelvic function and hind legs and fell in the water.

14

Franco 04.06.06 at 3:12 pm

Nevertheless, it would be uncharitable not to notice that it is certainly correct to say that “Evolution” is a theory discerned in retrospect, and that the contours of that theory remain in dispute. Not to mention that science’s over-reaching has often ended in tears…

15

Jeremy 04.06.06 at 3:17 pm

Touché, Franco. Maybe Bunting has a fishy explanation in the Grauniad…

16

Bernard Yomtov 04.06.06 at 3:18 pm

Is anyone else offended by the repeated suggestions that this finally refutes the creationists? Were we really waiting around for something like this to prove them wrong?

That implies that until a few days ago “scientific creationist” arguments had some merit. I don’t think so.

17

Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 3:29 pm

Franco, would it be be uncharitable not to notice that you have no idea what you’re talking about? First, the discovery of Tiktaalik roseae is a textbook example of retrodiction- if you have a problem with that, do you also disbelieve in, or example, all historical aspects of geology? Second, nothing about the commn ancsetry of life due to descent with modifcation, or the basic operation of major mechanisms like selection and drift, is “in dispute”, on the contrary they are extremely massively well-established; the open questions in evolutionary biology are no more (or less) numerous or open than they are in any other well-established yet still active area of science. May I ask where you get the information that you believe qualifies you to pontificate thus?

18

Jeremy 04.06.06 at 3:50 pm

Steve Labonne,

Franco is not as silly as he sounds…

http://crookedtimber.org/2006/03/29/not-as-silly-as-she-sounds/

Fourth paragraph.

19

Teresa Nielsen Hayden 04.06.06 at 3:57 pm

Of course this doesn’t finally refute the Creationists. They were refuted long ago.

20

Steve LaBonne 04.06.06 at 4:02 pm

OK, I get the joke- I went back and read the Bunting post- but again, I don’t find it very funny. No matter how well-founded anybody thinks the existence of the thing called “The Enlightenment” may be, it’s on nothing within a million miles of the epistemological footing of evolution. Sorry to be a humorless old grouch, but given what’s going on these days I have a hard time working up a sense of humor about this subject. (Especially after the recent fiasco of Steve Fuller’s unseemly sojourn in these parts). All right, I’ll climb back into my Oscar the Grouch trash can now and grumble quietly to myself.

21

Franco 04.06.06 at 4:43 pm

Steve Labonne (good name!),

Take it easy. I am a biochemist, myself, and would be soon out of funding were Creationism to be re-established. It’s just that I am also dismayed that certain CTers’ antipathy to ‘hard’ liberalism (or is it just an artificial contrarianism?) has sometimes, um, evolved into a tortuous defence of Islamists and their apologists.

22

Chris Bertram 04.06.06 at 5:05 pm

Ah yes, defences of Islamism are two-a-penny here at CT. What were you smoking again Franco?

23

Richard Bellamy 04.06.06 at 5:43 pm

Speaking as a scientist, what exactly is the selective advantage of “changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals” in fish that admittedly lived in the water, but would someday permit them to live on land?

If I’m, say, an old-Earth Intelligent Design theorist, isn’t my strongest argument in favor of ID the “evolution” of structures that are useless to the present generation but will become useful millions of years down the road?

24

Jeremy 04.06.06 at 6:31 pm

So you hate the sin, eh Chris? Franco wrote ‘Islamists and their apologists’, not ‘Islamism’.

25

Ginger Yellow 04.06.06 at 6:58 pm

Richard – I haven’t looked in detail at the precise adaptations of this find (apart from the more flexible neck), but in general anything that helps fish (or other aquatic creatures) breathe oxygen from the air would help them survive in poorly oxidised water or where water is scarce for part of the year. You might just as well ask: “Why do lungfish exist?”

Teresa – all of fundamentalism seems to be setting its adherents up for catastrophic loss of faith. The denial of non-scriptural evidence, the head-in-the-sand approach to sin (no sex education, for example), the elevation of all-too-human authority figures, and so on. I’m puzzled as to why fundies think fragility of faith is a price worth paying for moral and epistemological certainty. If that certainty can’t withstand rigorous challenge, what good is it?

26

eudoxis 04.06.06 at 7:16 pm

If I’m, say, an old-Earth Intelligent Design theorist, isn’t my strongest argument in favor of ID the “evolution” of structures that are useless to the present generation but will become useful millions of years down the road?

Why? IDists tend to argue that all morphological and functional features are perfectly designed and useful. Biologists, on the other hand, will say that there are features that are either uselessly present while other features confer adaptive advantage, or that features fall by the wayside as species adapt.

In the case of Tiktaalik, functional advantages can be inferred from changes in ear and limb structure. The advantages that these structures conferred were selected. It’s just not the case that selection was anything anticipatory. The interesting thing is that such changes were previously proposed as necessary steps in the evolution from fishes to tetrapods, but they had not yet been found in the fossil record.

27

eudoxis 04.06.06 at 7:20 pm

Ginger Yellow: all of fundamentalism seems to be setting its adherents up for catastrophic loss of faith.

One would think. Yet, radical fundamentalism seems to be growing in the world today. Within a framework of such fundamentalism, one can use a lot handwaving to dismiss secular empirical science findings.

28

Ginger Yellow 04.06.06 at 7:40 pm

Well it seems to me that it’s no coincidence that fundamentalism and evangelism/proselytising go hand in hand. They need a constant supply of new, young recruits to replace the ones who wake up and smell the evidence. It’s not just “secular empirical science findings” that go against fundamentalism – it’s basic human interaction. Legislating against what you consider sin will not make it disappear, nor will pretending it doesn’t exist. Further, I would argue the rise of radical fundamentalism is closely tied to things, like the overturning of conventional gender roles, that disturb many conservatives deeply. Fundamentalism provides a ready answer for such people to back up their gut instinct that these changes are immoral, and increasingly provides a political (and/or violent) means to reverse those changes, but it’s not an answer that stands up to intellectual scrutiny.

29

Ginger Yellow 04.06.06 at 8:00 pm

I said:

Well it seems to me that it’s no coincidence that fundamentalism and evangelism/proselytising go hand in hand. They need a constant supply of new, young recruits to replace the ones who wake up and smell the evidence.

The big exception to this, of course, is Judaism. Without proselytisation, the most hardline Orthodox Jews have to shut themselves off from the outside world almost completely to sustain their worldview.

30

Bernard Yomtov 04.06.06 at 8:43 pm

Of course this doesn’t finally refute the Creationists. They were refuted long ago.

I did not say otherwise. My annoyance is with the media who play the anti-creationist angle of this, as though that were the reason it is interesting.

31

goatchowder 04.07.06 at 4:22 am

I have to go back to the well on this…. to Bill Hicks:

“The idea of God FUCKING WITH MY HEAD scares the shit out of me!”

32

Jeremy 04.07.06 at 8:43 am

Agree, totally (#16). A more interesting story (and angle), Bernard Yomtov, is this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/07/science/07evolve.html?

33

Richard Bellamy 04.07.06 at 2:20 pm

Eudoxis wrote:

The advantages that these structures conferred were selected. It’s just not the case that selection was anything anticipatory.

But the NYT article cited states:

But on closer examination, the scientists found telling anatomical traits of a transitional creature, a fish that is still a fish but has changes that anticipate the emergence of land animals

Specifically:

In the fishes’ forward fins, the scientists found evidence of limbs in the making. There are the beginnings of digits, proto-wrists, elbows and shoulders.

All I know is what I read in the article. And the article doesn’t talk about lungs. It talks about proto-wrists. What is the evolutionary advantage of “transitional footlike structures” over pectoral fins?

34

Steve LaBonne 04.07.06 at 3:11 pm

I did not say otherwise. My annoyance is with the media who play the anti-creationist angle of this, as though that were the reason it is interesting.
Even more annoyingly, that idiocy unsurprisingly got picked up right away by the Discovery Institute’s propagandists (quote courtesy of PZ Myers):

There’s a problem with the Darwinist position that runs even deeper than this, however: If Darwinian evolution is an undisputed fact, as its chief defenders routinely claim, why is this fossil find being billed as such an crucial piece of evidence?

Arrgh. Right up there with the old “now there are 2 gaps where there was 1” wheeze. These guys must have taken a course of two in logic taught by Steve Fuller.

35

eudoxis 04.07.06 at 11:07 pm

Richard Bellamy, the New York Times is not explaining evolution in this particular article and it’s taking some semantic liberties that might confuse some readers.
The real articles can be found here .

“What is the evolutionary advantage of “transitional footlike structures” over pectoral fins?”

We don’t know what the particular advantage is. One can speculate, but there is no evidence for this species other than what can be determined from morphology. The bones in the fin/limbs were probably not adaptive for life on land at all. They can bear weight (not necessarily unbuoyed), but that feature may have provided for highly efficient aquatic life rather than life on land. The early Tetrapods are all thought to have been aquatic. What these bones do tell us is that the proposed theoretical transition from fin to limb in the lineage of Sarcopterygii (lobe-fin fish) to Tetrapod, is confirmed in these fossils, even in the way in which individual bones are thought to have evolved in a series of gradual changes.

Individual organisms or fossils need not bear the burden of proving or disproving evolution. They all form part of a gigantic whole from which a very clear picture of evolution emerges.

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